In the age of GPS, reading maps may seem like a lost art, but all the kids I know have at one time or another developed an interest in maps. Exploring maps, even casually, helps kids develop an understanding of their place in the world, as well as strengthen spatial reasoning skills. And learning about how maps work doesn't have to be hard, as these fun map activities for kids demonstrate.
I've divided these map activities into two sections. First, you will find some super simple ideas that I did with my sons when they were preschool and early elementary age. They take very little effort on the part of the parent, with little to no prep work and lots of free time for exploration and child-directed discovery.
Second, I'm sharing some "slightly less simple" map activities for kids. They involve more prep work, but they are excellent for elementary school-aged children who want to dive deeper into geography and mapping skills.
Don't forget our other geography and map learning resources:
- Geography and cultural studies books for kids of all ages.
- Fun ways to learn geography with games, food, celebrations and more
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Simple Map Activities
Make your own map (even if it's not pretty)
One way to help kids understand how maps work is for them to make their own. All you need is blank paper, pens and perhaps some stickers. Encourage your child to think outside the standard street map box. My son loves transportation so he made a map of the Long Island Railroad system!
Alternatively, you can inspire them to make an imaginary map with this blank map printable from Picklebums!
Make a map of your living room (and turn it into a game)
Kids will learn mapping skills by working on mapping a small space that they know well. Note the non-aerial view of the windows and the bookshelf!
We also used his map to play a treasure hunt game. I put an "X" on a location of the map to indicate where I had hid one of his toy trains and he had to find it. Even though this was really easy, he totally LOVED it and we played for quite some time.
Navigate the Neighborhood (and have an adventure)
Teach your kids to navigate their neighborhood streets with an easy and fun mapping activity. First we photocopied and enlarged our map. Then we found our home on the map, and a place where he would like to go. Then he traced the route on the map and we headed out on an adventure.
Check out this similar idea where you print out a Google map of your area and help your child locate familiar landmarks and add them to the map.
Alternatively, use your child's favorite toys to navigate on maps!
Use a Compass (the simple way or the hard way)
Kids love gadgets and when I found a compass I didn't know I had, I handed it to my son. After explaining what it was with the simple explanation that a compass always points north, I let him try it out on his own. As it turns out, a compass is great entertainment to make a simple walk in the park one hundred times more interesting.
The "hard way" to incorporate a compass is to get down to the nitty gritty of using a compass to navigate when you are lost. REI has a great video of how to use a compass here.
Put Together a Puzzle (and learn geography the easy way)
I highly recommend a giant floor puzzle map! I bought this puzzle on a whim and my son learned the 50 states in no time, and all without any effort from me (other than a few dollars, of course). But seriously folks, the act of searching, finding, and fitting the right piece in a puzzle activates the learning centers of the brain and will make it easier to remember places on a map!
Peruse an Atlas (and inspire your baby brother)
One totally effortless way to share the beauty of a good map with your child is to leave some giant atlases lying around. When they pick up the atlas, not only will they be intrigued to check it out, the atlas will keep them busy while you finally get a chance to drink your coffee.
And you may even get to have a second cup when baby brother wants to emulate his idol and check out those maps, too!
"Slightly More Involved" Map Activities
The following map activities for kids are not complicated, but they do require more adult involvement and supervision.
Make a compass. How about making a magnetic cork compass? This idea is "slightly more involved" but is actually fairly simple. You need a piece of cork, a needle and a magnet. Learn how to make your own compass here.
The following activities are shown in the above photo collage clockwise.
Make a watercolor map. This gorgeous map study idea comes from Adventure in a Box. I absolutely love the results. Perhaps best done with kids ages 7 an up.
Make a hometown map using Google Maps. This STEAM activity looks so amazing! Find out how to make it from Our Family Code.
Make a map out of salt dough. This classic school room activity is tons of fun, and you can do it at home, too. It's a clever way to learn about geographic features like mountains and rivers.
Make a map with LEGO. Does your child have a favorite story? Construct a map of the location using LEGO (this family chose Peter Rabbit) and settle in to watch some imaginative play.
Learn some mapping skills. This magical homeschooling mom found a creative way to use an oversized wall map to teach geo-literacy and help her daughter learn how to locate places on a world map. I love the idea of finding the places where favorite storybook characters live!
Treasure hunt with hand-drawn maps. This is similar to our "map the living room idea" but slightly more involved. This mom took the idea and expanded it for the outdoors. A group of children took turns hiding treasure and drawing maps with "X marks the spot."